21st Century Jeep Carrier - but Faster and for UAS
There she is … the gloriously underappreciated Casablanca Class Escort Carrier of WWII fame.
When people think of “Jeep Carriers,” more often than not that is what comes to mind, and for good reason. Of the 124 Escort Carriers built for the USN and Royal Navy in WWII, 50 were of the Casablanca Class.
At a time when the Essex Class Fleet Carriers were expected at peace to take 38-months from being laid down to commissioning (was shortened to ~20-months under wartime conditions), Kaiser proposed - and succeeded - in building those 50 Casablanca in 24-months. All of them. The last of the class, the USS Munda (CVE 104) was built in 4-months, from March 1944 to July of 1944.
They proved instrumental to victory in that war, providing irreplacable convoy escort to Europe, and because they could not keep up with the fast carrier groups in the Pacific, in addition to convoy escort as their Atlantic sisters did, they also did a lot or transport and battle loss replacement ferrying of aircraft ashore and to Fleet Carriers, and combat amphibious support like we saw in the half-dozen CVE who were part of the famous Taffy-3 in the Battle Off Samar.
Of course, that was a different time in a different - and much more industrial - America. We could build like that in the 1940s because in the last third of the 1930s there was a huge flush of money in to the Navy’s budget that fleshed out the pre-existing shipbuilding infrastructure that had spare capacity and expanded to more.
In 2023, we simply do not have that environment. We have walked away from shipbuilding, and our existing yards are pretty much tapped-out for even the minimal work our rump-fleet requires. There is no existing spare capacity ready to ramp-up anytime soon.
Give me a lot of money, a boatload of lawyers, and some significant legislative support, and in 5-yrs I could claw back a few places we threw away in the last 35-years - maybe - and perhaps bring in a few more.
However, the “decade of concern” school warns of a brewing war in the Western Pacific sometime centered on 2027. That’s not enough time to ramp-up even if Congress and the Executive Branch got religion this POM cycle.
So, should that war come, will we need a way to provide fixed wing and rotary wing support to supply convoys going west and - as big wars tend to get bigger - east as well?
Of course we will. How do get there?
It would require some “creative acquisition” procedures as in addition to throwing away our once great shipbuilding capability we also have but a whisper of USA flagged merchant vessels. As our friends from ThinkDefence reminded us the other day - there are other options out there last brought up a bit over four decades ago;
A small-ish det of F-35 and some helicopters on a few container ships? How about one filled to the brim with strike capable UAS?
Ask any merchant Sailor if they would be happy with this or nothing. Heck, as Big Navy has already told them they’re on their own, find a way to containerize some VLS cells and whatever AAW missiles you can find in any number that will fit … and again - better than nothing.
A few questions:
If we identified the ships we would use for such a program, how long would it take until we could operationally test a prototype?
I assume the flight deck and support equipment could be built ahead of time and stored for installation later. If so, how long to produce them? How many?
How long would it take from “go” to install such a pre-positioned and stored capability?
Could it be manned by USNR?
What additional personnel - including aircrew and maintenance personnel - would it take to; a) operate the air det; b) additional weapons AAW weapons systems.
I’ll take the brief on June 30th. Winter is coming.